Coastal Commission Staff Says Poseidon’s Ocean-To-Tap Water Plant Should Not Be Built

Commission vote next month could be make-or-break for the long-running, controversial project.

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Poseidon Water’s long-running, controversial effort to turn the ocean off Huntington Beach into tap water for much of Orange County suffered a potentially fatal blow Monday, April 25 when staff for the California Coastal Commission released a report saying the project should not be built.

Citing a range of economic and social factors, including environmental damages from the proposed plant and the company’s track record for slow-walking environmental projects that would offset harm caused by its existing desalination plant in Carlsbad, the staff recommended that the commissioners vote against approving the project May 12 when they hold a public hearing in Costa Mesa.

“Due to this project’s fundamental inconsistencies with the Coastal Act … as well as its unclear but likely significant burdens on environmental justice communities, staff is recommending denial of the project.”

That recommendation still could be rejected.

With drought conditions now a new normal in California – and water supplies expected to grow tighter in coming decades – many view desalination as an expensive but necessary option to meet future needs. Also, many on the 12-member commission were appointed to their roles by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who favors the idea. And the $1.4 billion project – which would employ about 2,000 people during construction, though only a handful during its operating life – has bipartisan support from business and labor groups throughout the county and the state.

But if the commission agrees with staff and rejects Poseidon’s request to build a 50-million-gallon-a-day desalination plant in Huntington Beach, the company could be out of options. The commission is the last agency to review the deal and the upcoming public hearing is viewed as a make-or-break moment for a project first proposed in 1998. Company officials have said a no vote from the Coastal Commission would be a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Late Monday, after the staff recommendation was made public, the company issued a statement indicating it will ask commissioners to ignore staff and approve its plan.

“We believe the Commission staff has erred in its recommendation. … California’s elected officials and regulators should consider the dire consequences that this recommendation will have for desalination in California.

“If this recommendation stands, it will effectively be the death knell for desalination in California.”

People who track the project believe that over the past two decades Poseidon has spent $100 million in research, planning, marketing and political contributions, among other things, to make the Huntington Beach plant a reality.

The negative recommendation from Coastal Commission staff, which was filed Jan. 6 with addendums written in recent days, isn’t a complete surprise. The commission was slated to vote on the Poseidon proposal in March, but the company asked for a delay after seeing a draft of the staff report.

Since then, other issues have come up that could kill the project, even if the Coastal Commission overrides staff and gives its blessing.

Last month, after years of public support for the Huntington Beach project, a top official at the Orange County Water District suggested his agency isn’t sure if it still backs the plan. Mike Markus, OCWD’s general manager, told a OC Forum gathering in Irvine that costs associated with storing and re-treating water produced by the Poseidon plant might prove a deal-breaker.

The Orange County Water District is, to date, the one agency known to be interested in buying desalinated water. In 2018, the agency signed a nonbinding deal to serve as the wholesaler for desalinated water, saying it would distribute Poseidon’s water to any of the 29 member agencies that want to buy it.

But that deal is contingent on Poseidon winning regulatory approval and the smaller water districts agreeing to be customers. In March, one of those agencies – the Irvine Ranch Water District, which would account for about 17% of the potential local customers for desalinated water – voted against the idea.

One key issue is how much residents would pay for desalinated water. Poseidon says the Huntington Beach plant would add $3 to $6 a month to a typical water bill once the project is online, probably later in this decade. But that estimate was last updated about 10 years ago and it’s unclear if it incorporates costs associated with distribution and other issues.

Another factor is environmental harm. Though the desalination projects in Huntington Beach and Carlsbad initially were envisioned to cause minimal new damage to the ocean because they would be built in areas already damaged by existing power plants, studies have shown the Huntington Beach project would kill microorganisms and significantly damage more than 400 acres of ocean environment.

As part of the negotiations over the proposal, the state has asked Poseidon to finance a range of environmental projects – from improving estuaries in Orange County to building a reef off the coast of Palos Verdes – to offset that damage. But the staff report noted that even a new set of projects proposed this month by Poseidon would take so many years to come to fruition that the Huntington Beach project would be a net loss for the environment.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register


  1. Ensenada,Mexico has desalinization plants as do the farmers further down the coast of Baja.. VViva Mexico 🇲🇽

  2. Jeff Farrell says

    Desalinization seems to be a real issue with the Enironmental Area. Why? What would be a better approach, and wouldn’t that be time for a debate? Are people upset about not having water, then maybe they should become educated as to why it is such a problem. Is this an issue of power and control?

  3. Richard Cathcart says

    The Coastal Commission staffers that suddenly sprung vaguely postulated “future sea-level rise” as a commanding disqualifier are merely supporting their employers/masters, not the public’s need for freshwater immediately. This State’s water-supplies agencies and regulatory agencies are flooded by Democrats looking to cement their money-making hold on California’s non-Elites via unstable real estate pricing. The Coastal Commission is topped out with celebrity dolts, narrow-minded, ignorant, including too vaporous Academics….that’s the REAL menacing rise over the past decades of degrading waves of nonsense-spouting frauds. Arizona is examining now a long-distance desalinated freshwater pipeline coming from Mexico’s west coast (facing onto the Gulf of California). Meaning, well-watered Arizonans are going to thumb their nose at Sacramento very soon. As to our stupid Coastal Commission’s commandment: just place ANY California coast-sited desalination plant a bit further inland using an insignificantly lengthier intake/discharge pipe!!! DUH.

  4. Just another organization during the Communist Parties Agenda. The worst part of it is that the majority of it’s members do not have a clue that they another effective arm of the CP.

  5. “doing” not during”

  6. Another article highlights a company moving to Texas. As Sacramento grinds California into dust, and so many of the producers flee, desalination plants will no longer be needed. There won’t be any people left.

  7. Protect Freedom says

    If this was a public transportation project, it would have been given the green light right away, just as the environmental rules were kicked to the curb for the high speed rail project. Suddenly if it is a project the leftist in this stat want, the environmental rules don’t exist. How many acres have been destroyed by solar projects. The left doesn’t seem to care about that. The left also doesn’t care about strip mining the planet for battery materials for electric vehicles. In fact, they call it “saving the planet”.

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